Last week, a senior journalist asked me to fill up a questionnaire about women in media, gender parity and suchlike issues. She warned that it was going to be a complicated questionnaire and I should think hard before filling in my responses.
It was complicated.
Partly because there are no straight answers to all questions, and partly, because there's no information available.
For instance, numbers :
How many women journalists in this country? In this city?
How many women in print and how many in broadcast and how many online?
How many on contract? How many unionised?
What percentage? What ratio?
How many in senior position? How many in super-senior, top-of-the-heap positions?
How many in 'hard' and how many in 'soft' news?
What percentage? What ratio?
I just don't know!!
I found only one report, about discrimination in scribe-land, based on a study conducted by the National Commission for Women, about gender issues in the Indian media; and even this turned out to be limited, because most of the potential respondents did not respond to the survey.
The one union website that did seem active and frequently updated, did not have any statistics broken down, along gender lines. Unfortunately, most women are not members of any union or press club.
Ultimately, I used my own limited experience to answer those questions. In any case, collecting data from various media offices is not a very efficient way of researching gender parity, because media - especially nowadays - is in a constant state of flux. People are always moving; ratios are always changing.
For instance, in our bureau, women form 33.33 % of the editorial team (3 out of 9), but in the Bombay bureau of the same publication, women comprise 100% of the team (all 3 are women, last I heard).
Earlier, when I worked at the ToI office, my team was almost perfectly balanced. But the Femina Girl team was not; there was only one guy there. When I first joined Mid-day, there was an equal number of women and men, but that changed within a year - thus upsetting the ratio.
But on the whole, looking around me, and judging by the number of women I see at press conferences, and major events, I'd venture to say (and I'm sticking my neck very far out, while saying this) that we have a more or less balanced ratio in the English language media. This is NOT true of Hindi, Urdu, Marathi or any other language press.
Also, gender-beats/roles are often pre-defined.
Development issue or Social sector press con - 50% women. Police press con - 20% women. Riot situation - 10-15% women. New car launch - 30% women. New lipstick launch - 70%+ women. New lingerie line launch... ummm, maybe 50% of all the women journalists working in magazines, and 95% of all the mostly-male-photographers in town.
On a serious note, the fact remains that there is a serious non-representation problem for women journalists in the small towns, in the regional press, and that's where it really matters. Everywhere I travel, I meet local journalists, but only once have I encountered a woman journo, and that was in Udaipur, which is not really so small, as small towns go.
Most photographers and camera crews are men. It is also true that nearly all women journos I know end up handling 'features'. In Bombay, I knew of only one other girl who covered courts, and only one who covered crime. While these beats continue to be a male bastion, it is also true that the woman brigade isn't doing much to storm these bastions.
For instance, I would not voluntarily tackle crime. If the beat was assigned to me, maybe... but I wouldn't be too happy doing it. Not because I'm scared; I've done my share of chasing lawyers, hanging around police stations, watching raids, speaking to criminals... I continue to do all of the above, when the story demands it of me. But I will never be on back-slapping terms with these people, and I can think of other things I'm more interested in.
Yet, this is not necessarily because I am a woman. So, okay, I have not been around long enough, but in my limited experience, I have never been made deliberately uncomfortable by cops or criminals, while I'm on the job.
On the contrary, in my limited experience, I have been made very uncomfortable by fellow-journalists - men AND women - and some former bosses.
How do I reduce this complexity to numbers, percentages and ratios?
There are other problems with regard to gender parity on the work front.
I know of several women who do not want to work very hard. They want a job in the media because it makes them feel glamourous and powerful. But they don't want to meet cops, criminals, or even a raggedy social worker who wears torn chappals.
Some of them just want a job, want to work enough to justify keeping the job, but don't want to break any stories. They lack ambition. Other women have severe hang-ups about 'these modern girls' who are a blot on the face of all Indian womankind, and complain about younger girls taking away their jobs (such are the women who're responsible for the lack of a bar at the Indian Women's Press Corps). As if older men don't lose their jobs to young blood!
If women don't get promoted... well, maybe some of them don't particularly deserve a promotion. But I am bothered by the assumption that many of us are not getting promoted because we are women. I am bothered by the caveat in questionnaries, that even allows us to assume such things, giving us this hole to slip our possible incompetance into.
I mean, for God's sake, how do I KNOW that I am not being promoted because I'm a woman. There's a whole stack of men out there who are not getting promoted either. After all, if a bureau has 20 journos, there can be only 1 chief. And only 1 resident editor. And only 1 editor-in-chief. [Four years ago, the head of Mid-day Multimedia was Bachi Karkaria, a woman].
Sure, the competition is intense. But some women have made it. Ambitious women. Maybe even manipulative women. But smart women.... but when they do make it, people (many of them being women) immediately make the converse allegation. That you made it because you used your womanhood, allowed your body and your conscience to get used.... my point is: even if it were true, what gives us the right to bring in gender parity into the media picture, in particular? What does the press, our work, have to do with our bedroom/couch choices?
PS - Please do let me know if there are any specific studies or reports about gender parity in the media.